School rivalries, backgrounds, sports played and abilities all took a backseat when 24 Pac-12 student-athletes spent the morning volunteering at a Special Olympics Northern California aquatic competition. Providing the Special Olympics athletes with the best possible environment was the priority for everyone involved as members of the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) served as timers, escorts, and most importantly cheerleaders.
The group made personalized posters for the Special Olympics athletes, learned their names, connected with the athletes before and after their races, timed heats, hustled to fill whatever roles needed fulfilling, and most importantly, served as everyone’s loudest cheerleaders.
“My favorite part is seeing all the athletes and how excited they get and the joy that’s on their faces,” Colorado junior skier Brooke Wales said. “It’s been so great to cheer them on in their sport. After completing their races, some of them come out and they want to know their time and how fast they were right away. And others are just happy to have done a lap or two laps down the pool. It’s really inspiring to watch.”
The Saturday morning volunteering was part of the SAAC’s weekend in San Francisco. SAAC has done community service projects in the past, ranging from coastal clean-up to soup kitchen work and homeless shelter maintenance. In the past, SAAC has worked with Special Olympics and all enjoyed the event.
“It’s been a lot of fun interacting with the athletes,” California linebacker and SAAC Chair Nick Forbes said. “You can sense their different personalities right off the bat, and that’s been really cool. It makes Special Olympics events unique from other service projects. The sportsmanship is on another level. It’s great to see them support each other and root for each other, and still be racing against best friends.”
The natural tie of sports and wanting to do one’s best between the Pac-12 and Special Olympics was clearly visible as the two groups of athletes shared high fives, hugs and the day together. The sporting backgrounds, innate philanthropic spirits and laser-sharp focus made the student-athletes perfect volunteers.
“We’re all athletes out here so there’s that common thread,” Forbes said. “It’s the interactions with the athletes that really make it special.”
The aquatics meet – held at College of San Mateo – is just one of 160 competitions that Special Olympics Northern California puts on every year. Competing Saturday were athletes hailing from Half Moon Bay, San Francisco and San Mateo.
“It’s a very rewarding experience,” Wales said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend four hours volunteering. It’s very energizing. It’s easy to cheer these athletes on and it makes such a difference for them.”
The Pac-12 SAAC members volunteering were – Mykalin Rosenquist and Brian Stevens (Arizona); Riza Perez and Brandon Mills (Arizona State); Roberta Roeller and Nick Forbes (California); Brooke Wales and Charlie Von Thaden (Colorado); Kendall Brooke and Doug Brenner (Oregon); Maureen Tremblay and Obum Gwacham (Oregon State); Katie Olsen and Michael Sojka (Stanford); Crystal Shaffie and James Hartshorne (UCLA); Nikki Chang and Sean Mulroy (USC); Danielle Rodriguez and Alexandre Fernandes (Utah); McKenzie Fetcher and Maurice McNeal (Washington); and Richard Longrus and Mariah Cooks (Washington State).